(Not) Made in Germany? Imagining Germany from the Outside (Jan 2015 - Dec 2016)

Principal Investigator: Dr Nicholas Martin,
Co-Investigators: Dr Isabelle Hertner, Dr Sara Jones, Dr Julian Pänke
External funder: German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)


not-made-in-germanyIn the 2013 Country Rating Poll for the BBC World Service, Germany was ranked as the most positively viewed nation in the world, with Germany’s “diligent diplomacy” (Stephen Evans) and growing economy being cited as reasons for its international popularity. On the other hand, in the same year, the German response to the Eurocrisis met with a (re)surfacing of negative representations of German leadership within Europe, including the depiction of Chancellor Angela Merkel in a Nazi uniform. Some of the language used in the British media to describe Germany’s 7-1 defeat of Brazil in the 2014 World Cup semi-final was reminiscent of a Germany imagined as aggressive and imperialist. But (why) do such external perceptions matter? What can be learned by looking at how a nation is understood by actors and in contexts beyond its borders? What does the label “made in Germany” – traditionally a metaphor for quality, reliability, trust and value – mean in the contemporary world? Building on the success of the Institute for German Studies’s completed DAAD-funded research projects, Zeitgeist (2011-2012) and Weltanschauungen (2013-2014), this interdisciplinary research network moves the focus of study from German understandings of self to views of Germany from abroad. Specifically, it seeks to analyse how images of contemporary Germany are constructed “from the outside” in the areas of economics, politics, education, history and culture.

Images of self are inseparable from images of the “other” and such constructions can have real impact on policy elaboration and formation. In a world that is increasingly interconnected ? economically, politically and culturally ? scholars in diverse disciplines have turned their attention to look beyond the nation and consider the ways in which national politics, culture and society defines, but is also defined by inter- or transnational relations. In this “transcultural turn”, the nation cannot be considered in isolation, rather it is understood as part of a network of discursive and material interactions. Indeed, the very concepts of “inside” and “outside” warrant fresh interrogation in the context of a world of “networks”, “in-groups”, “clubs” and “unions”. Not only are scholars from across the academy beginning to question the role of the nation state as a container of identity, interests and political decision-making, the very boundaries between “domestic” and “foreign” are also being blurred and reconstituted.

Through this project – which will begin in January 2015 – the IGS Birmingham will consolidate and expand its role as a primary hub for the support and inspiration of German Studies in the United Kingdom, as well as its reputation as a leading global research centre. Funding is sought to establish a high-profile academic network: (Not) Made in Germany: Imagining Germany from the Outside. The network will bring staff and postgraduate students from German universities and the worldwide DAAD German Studies Centres to the IGS in a series of five research visits focused around the core themes of the project.

The particular aims of this project are:

  • to bring together eminent international researchers working on constructions and images of Germany in different disciplines, thus promoting interdisciplinary exchange and a fuller understanding of how Germany is viewed and understood in diverse international contexts;
  • to strengthen the IGS’s ties with the worldwide network of DAAD German Studies Centres as well as with German universities, foster future international collaboration, and showcase UK German Studies to partners abroad;
  • to seek the involvement of colleagues and postgraduates in German Studies from across the UK through the organisation of a series of interdisciplinary symposia linked to the      research visits;
  • to draw on specialist expertise from political science, international relations, sociology, law, history, education, and cultural studies;
  • as part of the IGS’s core commitment to Nachwuchsförderung, to engage the experience of established scholars to support and develop the research skills and career progress of doctoral students and early career researchers, and facilitate international exchange between postgraduate students working in the field of German Studies from different disciplinary perspectives;
  • to support an IGS doctoral research student as project assistant (to start March 2015), who will be funded by the project during the first two years of study and by the University of Birmingham in his/her third year of study;
  • to support a Master’s student working on the research theme (to start October 2015), whose fees will be funded by the University of Birmingham;
  • to produce a significant special issue of the journal German Politics & Society,to be published in 2017.
  • to produce a policy report, presenting our main findings and a list of recommendations for policy-makers.

Research methods and structure

The network will be structured around a series of five research visits (up to 7 days each) by eminent scholars, accompanied by postgraduate students working in the worldwide DAAD German Studies Centres and/or German institutions. The scholars will use their time at the IGS to build closer collaborations with researchers working in UK German Studies and present their work at UK institutions. Through a series of internal workshops, visiting scholars will have the opportunity to work closely with the core research group and other colleagues to develop a particular aspect of their work. Each will produce an article to be included in the special issue that will emerge from the project. Colleagues and postgraduates from across the UK will be encouraged to participate in a series of research symposia linked to the visits.

The project comes at a moment when international images of Germany are ambivalent and in flux. The BBC World Service poll indicates that Germany’s contribution to the world is generally viewed positively. This can be linked to the domestic management of the Eurocrisis and continued economic growth, as well as the enduring perception of German “quality” in its exports (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, 2012). However, German cultural diplomacy is also extremely important in promoting an image of the nation as open, self-critical and culturally diverse, as seen in the work of the DAAD and Goethe Institut. Scholars interested in collective memory have noted that the German approach to dealing with its double legacy of dictatorship is viewed around the world as exemplary, with German expertise in this area being actively sought by other post-conflict societies (e.g., Beattie, 2007; Welsh, 2014). On the other hand, Germany’s role as European “hegemon”, and in particular its politics of austerity at the European level, have seen a return to “old” tropes of Germany as an aggressor nation. Similarly, the positive view of Germany’s use of “soft” power since WWII clashes with international frustration over a Germany that is an “unreliable” partner in the UN Security Council and an “unwilling” participant in international military interventions. Images of Germany at a popular level, where stereotypes and historical memory often play a significant role, may conflict or contrast with Germany as viewed by international elites, who focus on contemporary Germany’s political position on the global stage.

The following research questions will guide our research:

  • To what extent do Germany’s self-perceptions of its political standing differ from the perceptions held by its European neighbours and the wider world of Germany’s reputation, power and influence?
  • What roles do governments, the press, and museums outside Germany play in mediating and shaping processes of commemoration and of rethinking German history?
  • What are the benefits of the ‘outsider’s’ perspective and what impact do these have on self-images and on policymaking decisions in Germany?

Five core strands have been identified, around which the research visits and associated symposia will be structured: economics, politics, education, history and culture. The strands are discrete yet interlinked, and overarching themes and findings will be explored throughout the project (particularly in the project workshops), as well as in the published outputs. In order to facilitate the interdisciplinary exchange that is at the heart of the project, research leads and core collaborators will participate in the full series of symposia and events associated with the research network.

The five research strands are focused as follows:


During the European economic and financial crisis, the European Union (EU) has become increasingly intergovernmental (Fabbrini, 2013), with the big member states taking the lead in major decisions on the Euro. Without doubt, Germany has moved to centre stage during the economic downturn: due to the size of the economy and Germany’s leading position in the Eurozone, the Merkel governments have played a major role in the management of the crisis. In line with Germany’s “ordoliberal” paradigm (Berghahn and Young, 2013), consecutive Merkel governments have asked those countries experiencing economic crisis to balance their budgets and keep inflation low. Within Germany, this approach was criticised by DIE LINKEfor being too harsh, and by the newly founded conservative-liberal party, the Alternative für Deutschlandfor not being effective enough. Nonetheless, Merkel’s re-election as head of government for the third time in September 2013, and the success of the CDU in the European parliamentary elections in May 2014, shows that a majority of German voters support Merkel’s management of the Eurocrisis. However, if we take a step back to examine Germany’s economic reputation amongst its fellow EU member states, we see a very mixed picture. Whilst German “austerity policy” has resonated with Britain’s conservative-liberal government (Kickert, 2012), it has received much criticism from Southern European states, most notably Greece and Italy. Even France, Germany’s closest partner in the EU, has become a vocal critic of Germany’s Spardiktat (Bohn and Jong, 2011). In this strand of the project, we analyse the perception of Germany as a “Eurozone crisis manager” from the outside. We will investigate the portrayal of Germany’s economic policy in other EU member states and analyse the implications of this portrayal for the future of European integration and Germany’s role within the EU.


Germany has a reputation as a driving force behind the European integration project and occupies a central position in the European landscape of nation states (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, 2012). Since re-unification in 1990 Germany has tried to do justice to its new role in international politics, for example, by promoting the introduction of the Euro to further the economic and political integration of European states, supporting a military solution to the Kosovo War in 1999, and acting as an advocate of and mediator in the EU’s enlargement to the East. Germany has developed its economic and labour market policies into an internationally respected “German model”. However, recent events have cast doubt on this positive reputation: Germany’s abstention from voting in the UN Security Council on the intervention in Libya in March 2011 and its political attitude towards other EU members during the Eurocrisis produced narratives of Germany as an “unreliable” country, whose regained power had made it into a new “hegemon of Europe”. Recent developments such as the victory of avowedly anti-EU parties in Great Britain (UKIP) and France (Front National) in the 2014 European Parliament elections present Germany’s European policy with a serious challenge. Its self-imposed role as the leading country in the EU also means that Germany is expected to contribute substantially to a reorientation of Europe’s position vis-à-vis the new global players, in particular Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS). The recently launched programme “Review 2014” – which aims to revisit, debate and adjust Germany’s foreign policy – can be seen as a response to these challenges and as evidence that images of Germany as a political actor are the result of complex interactions between domestic decision-making and external processes. In this strand of the project, we ask how images of Germany as a political actor are negotiated through diplomatic relations, within institutional settings (such as the European Parliament or the UN Security Council) and in the media. We investigate how and why images of Germany differ between European and non-European states and what the implications of these differences are. In this way, we aim to demonstrate what factors influence the production and re-production of these images, and how they are incorporated into the strategies of political actors both within and outside of Germany.


Education has long been considered one of the key sites of national-identity building. The teaching and learning of, in particular, history, politics and culture are located within particular narratives about the national self, which may be shaped to varying degrees by state-mandated curricula. However, it is not just images and imaginings of the national self that are constructed in the classroom. Students and pupils are also presented with perspectives on other states and peoples, especially where their histories and cultures are intertwined. In this regard, Germany has long been the subject of history teaching in British schools. Moreover, in 2013, The Telegraphreported that German was the “best” language to study, as “UK companies want to hire employees who know their umlauts from their eszetts”. Nonetheless, this is in the face of a continual decline in the uptake of German at A-Level and within Higher Education, including the closure of a number of UK German Departments. The UK is at a moment of crisis in terms of language-learning in general and German in particular. Through engagement with both academic experts and practitioners at all levels of education, this strand of the project asks why the perception persists that German is not worth learning and what role the perceptions of Germany presented in the classroom – particularly in the teaching of history, politics and modern languages – may be playing in this decline. The apparent focus on ‘Hitler and the Henrys’ (The Telegraph, 2014) in school history teaching has long frustrated those British academics who regard the de factocurriculum as ill-suited to presenting the broad narrative of British history, but this focus also has implications for the way British schoolchildren and students perceive Germany. Moreover, as the former German Democratic Republic gains increasing prominence in British curricula, there is a risk that pupils and students will see the German nation only in the terms of “Nazi, Stasi: Germany’s festering half-rhyme” (Timothy Garton-Ash). This strand will explore these issues as well as considering how German language, history and politics are taught in other contexts and how successful strategies might be transferred to Britain.


Germany’s relationship to its turbulent recent history is sensitive and complex. Despite or perhaps because of this unprecedented historical and moral complexity, Germany’s ways of dealing with both its National Socialist and its more recent Communist past have become a role model for other nations seeking to work through troubled histories. Part of the process of dealing with the past in Germany has involved, at the official level at least, great sensitivity to international opinion of Germany’s past and present. Successive German governments over the past six decades have invested heavily in cultural diplomacy, partly as a means of influencing or reshaping outside images of Germany and its past by projecting Germany’s official self-image(s). This strand of the project will investigate the dialectic of external and internal images of the German past, with reference primarily to new, comparative perspectives on twentieth- and twenty-first-century German history afforded by the centenary commemorations of the First World War (e.g. Clark, 2012; Münkler, 2013; Leonhard, 2014), as well as emerging discussions on “European memory” (e.g., Langenbacher, Niven and Wittlinger, 2013). Current centenary commemorations of the First World War are both national undertakings yet also have the potential to transcend national borders to promote transnational, European understandings of the conflict and its aftermath. Efforts to re-evaluate Germany’s role in WWI, particularly by British historians, may also lead to a reassessment of national and European understandings, not only of that conflict but also of Germany’s subsequent history. In this strand of the project, we will ask what has shaped, and continues to shape, divergent (inter)national narratives of, and perspectives on, Germany’s history over the past one hundred years and consider to what extent these narratives of Germany’s past have been modified by interactions between outside images of that past and German understandings of it. Central to this will be an analysis of the roles played by governments, the press, museums and academic historians in mediating and shaping these processes of commemoration and of rethinking (German) history.


Culture has a particular role in mediating images of the self and other, and perhaps representing an antidote to the simplification and clear-cut narratives that may dominate popular representations of other nations. Germany has featured as an imagined place in numerous non-German works of literature and film, in particular since 1945. Frequently, this has been in the context of representations of World War II: the testimonies of the survivors of the Holocaust stand alongside fictional portrayals of Germany in wartime. In many cases, the conflict with Germany is a mere backdrop to heroic tales of Allied victory – from The Great Escape (1963) to Saving Private Ryan(1998) – while others present tales of redemption, notably Schindler’s List (1993), or dystopia, as in Robert Harris’s Fatherland (1992). Turning to the GDR past, Anna Funder’s successful Stasiland (2002) has made a significant contribution to fostering international perceptions of the GDR as a totalitarian state. On the other hand, in literary works produced by Eastern European writers, Germany is often seen as the locus of freedom or escape, the first stop beyond the Iron Curtain (e.g., Judith Wermuth-Atkinson’s Näher an die Ferne or Carmen-Francesca Banciu’s Vaterflucht). However, it is not only in respect of works produced outside the country where perspectives on Germany are (re)shaped. Especially German film-making has enjoyed notable international successes in recent years and these films have exported a particular vision of Germany to a global stage, including to the classrooms in which German history, language and culture are taught. In several cases, this is a representation of the German past, e.g., Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Der Untergang (2004), Wolfgang Becker’s Good Bye, Lenin! (2003) or Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Das Leben der Anderen (2006). Nonetheless, films such as Tom Tywker’s Lola rennt(1998) present a different, contemporary image of German society and culture and in particular of the united Berlin. This strand of the project investigates the way in which Germany is being constructed “from the outside” in contemporary European literature and film. We ask how producers of culture engage with Germany and how these representations have shifted since 1945. Alongside this, we consider the interaction between cultural products created outside of Germany and those that are “made in Germany” and experience global success. An important aspect in this regard is the role played by cultural mediators, such as the DAAD and the Goethe-Institut, in promoting and shaping international perspectives on German culture and society.


The initial outcomes of the collaboration will be presented at five research symposia, hosted by the IGS in Birmingham, the University of Bristol, the University of Westminster and/or the European Council on Foreign Relations (London). Each symposium will also involve eminent scholars and/or practitioners from the UK and Germany as discussants to further cement the knowledge-exchange that is at the heart of the network. All project symposia will be attended by members of the core research group. Colleagues and students from institutions around the UK will also be invited to participate in the symposia to ensure maximum impact for the project.

The doctoral research student assisting on the project will produce a dissertation on the topic of constructions of Germany from the outside with a focus on one or more of the core research strands. Reflecting the multiple interests of the network, the student’s doctoral work will be interdisciplinary, bringing together social science and humanities methodologies. It is anticipated that the doctoral dissertation will be published in the form of a series of high-quality peer-reviewed journal articles or a monograph.

The Master’s student will complete either the MRes in Modern Languages or the MA in Political Science with a dissertation focused on the theme of the research network. Core aspects of the dissertation will be revised for publication in the edited volume of essays emerging from the network.

Both project students will be supervised by appropriate members of the core research group, according to the precise focus of their research thesis. The students will also benefit from interaction and engagement with the international group of experts involved in the network and will gain practical experience and skills through assisting in the administration and management of the project.

The final outcomes of the network will be published in a volume of essays with the title: (Not) Made in Germany: Imagining Germany from the Outside.The essays will be authored by the participating scholars and UK researchers, and edited by Nicholas Martin, Sara Jones and Julian Pänke.

In summary, the overall tangible outcomes from the network comprise:

  • 5 research visits by eminent international scholars in 2015-2016
  • 5 research visits by early career researchers in 2015-2016
  • 5 high profile research symposia (2 at the University of Birmingham; 1 at the University of Bristol; 1 at the University of Westminster; 1 at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London)
  • 5 internal project workshops
  • A completed PhD thesis
  • A completed Master’s thesis
  • A significant special issue of a journal
  • A policy report

More information           

For further information about this project, please contact 
Dr Nicholas Martin (n.c.martin@bham.ac.uk).